Swarm robots poised to fly amid acquisitions and military investment

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Summary: The military is going miniature, and that means big investments in small flying machines that will eventually operate in swarms.

An updated version of a battle-tested nano-UAV stole the show at an annual trial of military gadgets at Fort Benning, Georgia, last month. Tech readers may be nearing peak-UAV, but this autonomous bug-like vehicle is worth paying attention to.

The PD-100 Black Hornet, manufactured by Prox Dynamics, is an air vehicle about the size of a man’s finger. The UAV weighs 18 grams and now contains day and night-vision cameras that send still images or video back to an operator via a data-link. Designed for reconnaissance, the vehicle is incapable of attack or defense. But its size and ability to fly autonomously or semi-autonomously make it a clear precursor to the next generation of swarm robots. Welcome to the future of warfare.

According to a recent report by the Center for New American Security titled “The Coming Swarm: The Quality of Quantity,” the military is going miniature. Here’s why:

Today the U.S. military faces a pernicious cycle of ever rising platform costs and shrinking quantities. As a result, the number of combat ships and aircraft in the U.S. inventory has steadily declined, even during periods of significant growth in defense spending.

That’s problematic, according to the report, because the proliferation among adversaries of smart munitions and increasingly accurate weapons makes the decreasing numbers of ships and aircraft more vulnerable than ever. Our very expensive war machines will soon become very big strategic liabilities. So what are U.S. military planners to do?

Emerging robotic technologies will allow tomorrow’s forces to fight as a swarm, with greater mass, coordination, intelligence and speed than today’s networked forces. Low-cost uninhabited systems can be built in large numbers, ‘flooding the zone’ and overwhelming enemy defenses by their sheer numbers.

Full article: Swarm robots poised to fly amid acquisitions and military investment (ZDNet)

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